For most of us, food packaging and waste are most of our weekly rubbish amount. Since deciding to focus on a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, reducing my food packaging and waste has been a huge part of going Zero-waste. This article is to show you how easy it is to reduce your household waste even if you don’t have a zero-waste store or shop near you. The idea behind the zero waste movement is to reduce the amount of rubbish that we send to landfills or ends up in the oceans due to it being impossible to recycle or reuse.
I understand that many people do not have access to a zero-waste store but do want to shop more eco friendly. This article is for you. I have broken down the main sections of a normal grocery shop and added my advice on how to reduce your waste, plastic use and even save money!
It is easy to assume that being zero-waste is something for people with a large food budget. I want to show you that it is possible to make small changes, many of which can save you money. The majority of these changes you can do in your local supermarket. If you are interested in gong further and finding a bulk or zero waste store near you, the website zerowastenearme is a good start.
Because there was so much to discuss I have chosen to break down this article into categories. Over the coming few weeks I will be also covering toiletries, drinks and household cleaning.
I’d love to hear whether this inspires you to attempt a zero-waste shop or to reduce your use of single-use plastic when shopping for food.
Why should I try and shop zero waste?
While some people go extreme and only try and create a jar of trash a year, I believe that we can all make really easy small changes and choices to reduce how much rubbish we make. I want to share how easy it is to find a way to zero waste shop or store near you no matter where you are in the world. You may be surprised to see how easy it is to reduce your own waste. In fact, for many people, plastic-free or zero waste shopping is much cheaper. Getting rid of single-use plastic when buying food is a great way to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
Through the way we choose to shop, we have collective power over the huge food companies and chains in how they produce our food. This can lead to positive change even beyond our individual purchases. In fact, recently the huge supermarket change Tesco in the UK announced Loop, an online grocery store of well-known household products a waste-free store in which you return your product packaging and get a refund when you shop. A true sign that zero waste shops, stores and plastic-free shops are here to stay.
How can I shop for food zero waste?
Shopping zero waste is easier then you may think. All you need is a bit of preparation and then you will find how easy it is to fit within your routine and lifestyle.
Firstly, Be Prepared.
Most of us already have old tote bags or existing supermarket bags for life that can be used for shopping. Personally, I also have small special produce bags. These are lightweight re-usable netted bags used for fruit and vegetables if you have to weigh them in store. Making sure you keep these bags in the car and a spare tote bag in your day bag so that whenever you need to do some shopping you are ready to go.
Also, think about meal planning. In the UK, almost 6.6 million tonnes of food is through away just through our households with almost 70% of that still being edible. When you shop intentionally you can stop overbuying and reduce this waste. This will hugely help with reducing food waste, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.
Once you have planned what you are going to buy and created a list, you can see which items you are able to buy in bulk. This is an easy way to use less plastic. Changing brands to buy something in recycled packaging rather then plastic is an easy way to make a swap without changing what you need.
Where to buy Zero Waste Groceries
Fruit and Vegetables
Many supermarkets sell fruit and vegetables loose that work out much cheaper than buying them in the plastic packaging. I did a price check in my local Tescos and for every single fruit or vegetable item that came packaged in plastic, it was either exactly the same price or significantly cheaper to buy exactly the same thing without the packaging.
Avoid using the single-use plastic bags at the shops and just put them loose in your trolley or use tote bags to bag up your items. Recently I have started to buy all my fruit and vegetables from our local greengrocers. As well as supporting an independent business they tend to use little to no plastic packaging in their store. I am able to buy all my staple items such as apples, bananas, onions, potatoes, peppers, courgettes and broccoli without packaging. My supermarket also has all these as loose produce at a cheaper price then plastic packed.
Smaller supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl tend to use a lot more plastic packaging for their fruit and veg, In this instance, I would suggest one of two options. Ask yourself if you could swap the item for the same item not covered in plastic (i.e getting loose potatoes rather then the plastic bags) change the item or buy the item canned.
The few items I have struggled with are lettuce, celery, cucumber as well as soft fruits. This is because plastic packaging is used to keep them fresh on the shelves longer. In these cases, I urge you to think about reducing how much you use these items. Consider replacing cucumbers and celery with peppers and gherkins in your salads. You can also buy peaches, pineapple and other fruits tinned. Tinned fruit and vegetables are often much cheaper than fresh. As well as sourcing fresh items, I always have tinned tomatoes, peas and fruits at home.
Another option is if you do want to buy an item wrapped in plastic, treat it as a special item and try and buy it less often – and perhaps email or tweet your supermarket telling them you wish it wasn’t wrapped in plastic!
Meat and Dairy
Meat and Diary are usually the hardest items to get Zero Waste. They are often wrapped in single-use plastic and even when the plastic is recyclable it has been proved that less than 20% of the plastic that goes to recycling actually is able to be recycled. It’s often one of the most expensive items on your shopping list, so an easy win would be to reduce your overall meat intake.
There are many arguments as to reducing the consumption of animal products, however, I wanted to be realistic in helping you find zero waste alternatives whatever your diet. If you want to learn how to do a zero-waste shop and still include these items in your shopping – here are my suggestions:
Less Fresh Meat: If your local supermarket has meat or fish counter or you have access to a local butcher that would be the best option. Take your own Tupperware and ask politely for it to be used instead of the plastic packaging. If you are nervous about asking, simply be polite. There is no reason they should refuse. You can also buy larger packs of meat to reduce your overall plastic waste.
Consider Tinned Meat: You can also look at getting tinned meat as an alternative for some of your meal options and then recycle the packaging afterwards. You can do this with a variety of meats and is often a cheaper option than buying meat fresh from the fridges.
Frozen Meat: Many frozen types of meat like burgers are available in recyclable cardboard packaging, making them an easy alternative choice. Quorn and Linda McCartney (meat alternatives) not only offers recyclable packaging but also their plastic bags can be recycled.
Cheese and Yoghurt: Again, using a cheese counter and your own Tupperware is the best alternative here. You can also look at the packaging that can be recycled – for example, cottage cheese in a plastic pot with a foil lid can be recycled.
If no single-use packaging is possible, be creative. Buy the biggest block of packaged cheese you can and it will mean less packaging overall. Cheese freezes, so you can freeze what you don’t need straightaway. Avoid bagged grated cheese and grate your own from the block when you get home. The same is true for cheese slices – it will take less than 30 seconds to slice a block and save lots of money too.
Milk: Most milk comes in plastic packaging but there has been a recent resurgence of the old milkman in the UK. By searching on sites like findmeamilkman in the UK, you can find dairies that will deliver to your door in glass bottles. They are a variety of differences in cost for this. Some are the same price as the supermarket, while others cost a considerable amount more. My best advice would be to discover what is in your local area and fits with your budget. If you do have to buy milk in plastic bottles, make sure to recycle them and use whatever you buy without waste. I use oat milk, and just make it at home which is cheaper and suer easy!
Bread and baked goods
Over 10 years ago my Dad bought my older sister a breadmaker which she regifted to me around 7 years ago. Not only does it mean I can wake up to the smell of fresh bread it’s cheaper than buying from the supermarket and no plastic waste! I’ve seen plenty of good quality breadmakers listed on places like eBay and Facebook market place for less then £20. This way I can dump all the ingredients in with zero effort and have freshly baked bread every day at a cost of around 10p per loaf – not bad eh!
Yeast, flour, sugar, salt, margarine and eggs are the staples for baked goods. All are available in recycled packaging and you’d be surprised how easy it is to make your favourites. You can use a site like BBC Good Food to pick up some simple recipes. In the past year, I have learnt how to make bread, pitta, paratha, rolls, pizzas, pancakes and even vegan cakes!
If time or energy doesn’t allow for home cooking, you can pick up fresh baked goods in most supermarkets bakery section using your own tote bags rather then the single-use plastic provided. Also, consider looking in the frozen section. Often, part baked goods are available in cardboard packaging – I’ve found pastries, vegan sausage rolls and pasties hidden away in the freezer sections of Aldi and Tesco.
Outside of the supermarket, Greggs is an unlikely hero when it comes to zero waste! I can pick up all sorts of baked goods wrapped in paper bags which I can easily recycle when I get home if I am out and about.
Find out if you have a local bakery or food market which sells fresh bread too. Often that’s a super-easy way to get the items to put straight into a cotton tote bag and refuse the plastic packaging straight from the source.
The great thing about storecupboard staples is this often means canned or glass jar goods which are easy to recycle in most cities towns in the UK. There are a few items that I know can be hard to find zero waste so I wanted to share my top swaps here when it comes to ditching the plastic packaging:
Pasta & Rice: Avoid the single-use microwave packs and instead opt to bulk buy your pasta and rice. While most bags come in at around 500g, the majority of big supermarkets also sell 3kg bags which will reduce the overall plastic waste. Personally I have a pasta maker (for when I can be bothered) which I picked up for a fiver in a charity shop but am also lucky that my local zero waste store does white penne and vermicelli so I can still get my pasta fix without creating plastic waste. Another option is to reduce your pasta consumption. Perhaps try more potatoes or simply order it online from somewhere like zerowastebulkfoods.co.uk
Sauces & Dips: Again, ditch the plastic and instead get things in cans or jars which can be recycled. Swap your mayo or ketchup into glass bottles.
Cereals: Not sponsored (honestly!) but zerowastebulkfoods.co.uk will provide online zero waste cereal choices. You can also opt to get larger packs so that you create overall less plastic waste and reduce the amount of cereal you have. Perhaps only have it for breakfast a few times a week and have toast, fruit or pancakes for a change!
Tea & Coffee: I am a huge fan of herbal teas and the Yogi tea range is completely plastic-free and has a ton of choice. Watch out for tea coming in cardboard packaging but wrapping the tea with an internal plastic wrap. Many Coffee beans now come in completely compostable packaging, which can go in with your kitchen compost. Have a look at the packaging, my favourite for this is Percol which can be found in most UK supermarkets.
Snacks (Crisps, Biscuits, Chocolate and more): These are the worst for being wrapped in single-use plastic making it really hards to avoid if you have a sweet tooth. Crisps and biscuits are near on impossible to find in plastic-free packaging so the overall reduction is the best bet (or try making your own!) Rather than buy individual chocolate bars, many larger block chocolate bars are wrapped in foil and cardboard making them super easy to recycle. Tesco’s own, Divine, Lindt and Green and Blacks are all fully recyclable.
Have I forgotten anything? Let me know in the comments below!
My final tips and tricks!
Hopefully, I have given you a few suggestions here that you may not have considered before which will help you make a more sustainable, plastic-free shopping trip next time you go to the Supermarket. Something I encourage you to do is really explore what’s available in your local area. Many of us wander around the supermarket on autopilot – buying the same things week in week out, not considering what some of the other options could be.
It wasn’t until I really started taking zero waste seriously that I discovered so many easy ways I could make a swap, save money and still get the food I wanted to eat. It’s also made me discover and try new foods that I would never have considered before. For example, now I eat a lot more canned beans like kidney, black and butter beans rather then just chickpeas. I also love canned mushy peas and canned peaches. Two things I would never have considered if I hadn’t been looking for zero waste alternatives.
The most important thing to think about when doing a zero waste shop is this. Try your best. Sometimes you will forget your bags or the items you want are only available in plastic. And that’s ok.
Simply being conscious of how we consume our food is important. Making small changes makes a huge difference overall. Remember when plastic bags started costing 5p? Overall, sales of single-use bags by big supermarkets have fallen 90% since the 5p charge was introduced.
Reducing how much we eat food that is only available in single-use plastic helps and also means we can discover new things to try. I now love gherkins in my salads and although I still buy margarine in plastic tubs I reuse them as Tupperware to store leftovers in the freezer!
Over the coming few weeks I will be also covering toiletries, drinks and household cleaning. What fresh food do you buy that is in plastic? Let me know in the comments below and I can see if I can find an alternative that won’t break the bank.
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